An Australian bushfire

Bushfires are a big concern in a hot, dry country like Australia. In February 2009, 173 people died in the “Black Saturday” bushfires that tore through parts of Victoria. In January this year, a Victorian firefighter died battling a blaze in Tasmania. Here’s a gripping photo of a grandmother and grandfather huddling under a jetty with their grandchildren in Tasmania. They abandoned the house and managed to save the five kids and the family dog, which was sitting above them on the jetty.

In the last two months in Perth, I’ve covered bushfires in Kin Kin in the state’s south-west, Bullsbrook in the eastern suburbs and Trigg on the coast. All three forced homes to be evacuated. The Kin Kin fire tore through nearly 1500 hectares of dense forest, claiming the life of a bush recluse. In Bullsbrook, firefighters battled day and night to save 15 homes built on a hillside. And late one afternoon in Trigg, gusty afternoon winds sent flames from a bush reserve perilously close to homes. The response from firefighters was a sight to behold. Crews from eight stations were at the scene in minutes, supported by four helitacs, an aircrane and an air intelligence helicopter.

Bushfires are an intrinsic part of Australia – if you don’t believe me, I captured this photo evidence in Trigg. It’s a shot of a helitac shrouded in thick smoke, but when you max out the colour and contrast, a sunburnt country emerges.

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The joys of journalism

Confucius say: “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Well, I definitely feel like I’m working, but I love my job all the same. Agree to disagree, Confucius. Of course, he was onto something. From removing furniture, to driving forklifts, washing dishes, cleaning windows, stacking shelves, packing sea containers, hitting the phones, working in freezers and walking the aisles, I’ve had my fair share of jobs. And although a few of them had their rewarding moments and camaraderie, nothing comes close to my chosen career.

Journalism is the first job I’ve loved and I want to do it for the rest of my life. I don’t think that’s being overly optimistic either; no matter what form news takes, journalists will always be in demand. People like having something to read and while the blogosphere certainly isn’t lacking in that department, it is lacking the ethical and legal checks of most major news outlets. For a journalist, the ability to publish 24 hours a day across different platforms is a bonus, not a burden. Newspapers are shrinking, but it’s happening gradually enough to allow a carefully planned transition to cyberspace.

The work I did prior to my first post in journalism gave me a good grounding and an appetite for a long-term job I could sink my teeth into. Every day as a journalist is different, every day is a challenge and every day you learn something new. It can be stressful, but the opportunity to entertain, inform and influence people is well worth the worry. You’ll meet amazing people with amazing stories that will stick with you forever. And you get to see some pretty cool stuff. Here are some photos from my phone over the last few months.

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Kalgoorlie – the Golden Mile

Like chips? Love beer? Then Kalgoorlie-Boulder is the place for you. With 28 pubs to choose from and fries with breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s a great place to put on weight. After 10 weeks working at the Kalgoorlie Miner, I’d stacked on 8kgs – granted, I didn’t do any exercise, but there’s a 24-hour restaurant. Not a McDonald’s, an actual restaurant that will serve you a fillet steak, prawns and chips at 4am. Here’s me after five weeks (as Miner Mouse).

Miner Mouse, unbuttoned

Miner Mouse, unbuttoned

But I’m underselling Kalgoorlie – it’s an interesting place with 120 years of history. It’s also home to the richest square mile of gold in the world. People used to walk their barrows all the way from Perth hoping to strike it lucky. The annual 23km Balzano Barrow Race honours that chapter in Kalgoorlie’s history. Now, most of the gold is found at huge mining operations – the KCGM Super Pit alone produces 850,000 ounces a year. But every weekend, a few dusty prospectors can still be seen heading out of town to find Lasseter’s Reef.

With its wide roads and colonial architecture, the main strip, Hannan Street, is straight out of the wild west. The Exchange Hotel even has those doors Sinister Sam used to walk through on Sesame Street. But it’s more sophisticated than it looks. Gone are the days of 100 brothels servicing a male-dominated population; the gender split has come in to 53:47 and there are only two brothels left (although Chinese massage parlours are now a dime a dozen).

I wasn’t holding my breath for the Super Pit, but for a hole in the ground, it was pretty impressive. I think that sums up my thoughts on Kalgoorlie – not that it’s a hole, it’s just bigger and better than I expected. Like most places, it has its issues, from a marginalised indigenous population to poor drainage. But it also has a strong sense of community spirit and loads of character. I’m happy to be back in Perth but I’ll miss the Golden Mile, even its abundance of beer and food.

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Gone fishing

I love fishing, I just haven’t caught many fish. But a good day on the water isn’t all about catching fish, right? The sun, the lazy beers, the company, the swell, the fish guts – it all adds to the experience. To cut a long story short, I was delighted to catch some ****ing fish on my mate’s boat last weekend.

We went about 32km west of Ocean Reef, eventually reaching some good ground in 40m of water. As we slowed down, geysers exploded to our far right. Whales, three impossibly large humpback whales, were playing near the surface. We followed them for about a minute before they eased off towards the horizon. It was the first time I’d seen a whale first-hand and experienced their sheer scale and it wasn’t to be the last.

As soon as the fishing got underway, I realised we’d anchored in an aquarium. All sorts of reef fish, angelfish, a cuttlefish, a stringray, a silver bream, a skipjack tuna, a 5ft Port Jackson shark, a 5.5ft mako shark – and they’re just the ones we didn’t keep. The mako shark was a highlight. It was a longer fight, involving more than one person. Once the mako had tired it would come near the boat, then thrash and start taking line again. So eventually my mate just lent over and grabbed it on the way through. Respek

For dinner, we took a pink snapper, baldchin groper and breaksea cod – a great haul. The only other fish we wanted to keep was a dhufish, but the limit is 50cm and we couldn’t catch one over 48cm. I channelled my inner Jamie Oliver and fried the fish, made some chips and squeezed on the lemon. Petrol just paid for itself.

Later in the day as we were flying along the top of the water, we saw a slick straight ahead. My mate killed the motor and we turned to each other wide-eyed, mouthing the word ‘whales.’ Sure enough, two giants of the deep breached all of 40m in front of us. That encounter freaked us out a bit because if you hit a whale you’re in the drink, but again, the size of the creatures was humbling.

We started heading back to shore after about 10 hours, running low on petrol but too relaxed to care. I didn’t get any footage of the whales – the first time I was too mesmerised to think about my phone and the second time they didn’t resurface – but the sunset at Ocean Reef boat ramp brought a fitting end to a special day. The last couple of weekends have been too windy for fishing, but it’s the first day of Spring today, so things are looking up.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts is my latest obsession. A workmate introduced me through the UFC and I haven’t looked back.

A combination of stand-up and grappling skills, it’s a proving ground for the different styles of martial arts found across the world. Just among the current belt holders in the UFC, you’ll see techniques from boxing, wrestling, brazilian ju-jitsu, muay thai kickboxing, karate, judo and capoeira. (If you don’t know what capoeira is, see Marcus Aurelio in the white shorts). Fighters need a mix of different skills to rise to the top, but a lot of them have traditional martial arts backgrounds. Former UFC champion Lyoto Machida, for example, used his father’s karate teachings to reach the pinnacle of the sport, becoming the UFC Light Heavyweight champion.

Even if a fighter has great stand-up skills, they’re up against it without a decent ground game. I saw this first-hand at the WA Italian Club on Friday night, when Rob Powdrill lost via rear naked choke to Dave “Machete” Johnson. Powdrill, who fought for a kickboxing world title in France earlier this year, is a weapon on his feet. He stumbled Johnson in the first, but then was taken down and eventually submitted via rear naked choke. He seems like a good bloke and I think he could beat Machete in a rematch.

Lee Griffith from The West asked me to put some words to a multimedia package he did with Rob before the fight. We had one night to put it together.

Here are a couple of articles about Perth fighter Xavier Lucas, who made it onto the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show – one and two. And here’s a chat with former UFC LHW champion Tito Ortiz about MMA in Perth.

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South Sudan – escape from slaughter

A young Simon Tut looked on as his family was murdered. He saw his grandmother try to hang herself from a tree after his mother and two aunties were slain. While fleeing for the border, he saw boys eat other dead boys, because there was no other option. After spending almost a decade in Kakuma refugee camp, he was selected to come to Australia. Now, although harder than any Anglo-Australian, Simon (29) is a calming, gentle presence. An aspiring politician who works seven days a week, he’s an asset to the community.

Perth’s South Sudanese population deserves respect. Surviving in a land of death and depravity, they fled to neighbouring countries and spent years in refugee camps. So many saw their loved ones slaughtered like animals, so many saw the dark side of humanity. Eventually some were flown into WA, bringing nothing but the clothes they wore but carrying plenty of baggage. I’ve met a lot of South Sudanese people and despite the culture shock, they’re making the most of their new lives. Let’s make them feel at home.

A young South Sudanese man looks out over Scarborough beach.

In July last year, South Sudan was declared an independent nation. The region is still on a knife’s edge, but it was a day of celebration for Perth’s South Sudanese population.

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The beautiful Kimberley

Thought I’d share some photos from my week in the Kimberley. If you haven’t been there, get onto it. Clean, dry air and the best natural palette I’ve seen. Ochre, green and blue just feel right together.

You’ll see a few shots of an oasis called Zebedee Springs, where the mineral water runs hot, palm trees rustle and nothing else seems important. The Ord River’s a mirror on a lazy summer’s day and Emma Gorge* is flowing in all her glory. You’ll also meet Cyril Yeeda and Jwayne Knocketta, Warmun stockmen working on Home Valley Station.

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* Those toxic cane toads reached Emma last month. Volunteer group Stop the Toads is trying to limit their impact on biodiversity. Here’s a couple of reports on alleged State Government inaction as the toads sweep through the Kimberley – one and two.

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